Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Day Nine

Wow! We’re reaching the halfway point almost! Time has flown by. The Fab Five were our videographers for the day, so click below to see what they experienced.

We are no more efficient at getting out of our NOLA home in the morning than we were in those very first few days, but we are WAY better now at kicking in on the jobs that we are doing. We left a little later than we expected to depart after this morning’s pancake breakfast and most of us headed back to St. Raymond Catholic Church and School to finish off the rubble pile from our demolition job yesterday. By the end of the day, the space where the house had stood was just a patch of dirt with a bit of grass around the edges and one single water spigot sticking up in the middle. A dump truck came to pick up the first load from our massive pile(s) of debris at Catholic Charities; the operators said that it would take at least nine more to eliminate this mountain of debris.

About a third of us expected to begin the day finishing jobs at Don’s house, but we couldn’t separate off when we were ready to do so because Justin and Shane (fortunately) noticed that the tongue of the trailer was about to rust through all the way. Before it actually snapped off, we called the U-Haul 800 number and got emergency assistance. The driver arrived very quickly and okayed the idea of swapping out our trailer for a different one; it meant that we had to drive almost to Mississippi to get the new one, but it was worth the trip.

Our inability to divide into totally separate groups meant that everyone joined in on the clearing of the rubble from the demolished building. Things moved incredibly fast as we dismantled the roof, the remaining studs, the floorboards, the subfloors, and even the concrete blocks that had supported the structure before we brought it down. Megan Rodriguez was especially impressive in wielding a crowbar and a sledgehammer (Jed says that the tool she was using is technically called a “maul”), which helped her to win the Blood, Sweat, and Tears Award for today along with Lindsay Swoboda (another gallant worker who just never, ever quits) and Vince Sison (who manages to look great and show off for the camera even while he is totally engrossed in his work). They each got Turtle Fur ear warmers, which will come in handy on the chilly mornings in NOLA.

After lunch, we finally managed to divide up and send some folks to Don’s house to continue the floor sanding job. We got a more aggressive sander and the job is finally going quite smoothly (if you’ll pardon the pun). This new sander just mows off the top layer of the floorboards so that we don’t have to try again and again to remove the finish. Along with the floors, Justin and Shane also put some finishing touches on the texture of the walls at Don’s, so we might be able to paint inside tomorrow. If the weather holds (it can stay cold, but it can’t rain), we will paint inside Don’s house and repaint the trim outside at Sarah’s.

The Knucklebusters were our dinner crew and they had a tough act to follow after the excellent lunch prepared by Mannschaft: couscous with rehydrated broccoli, powdered cheese, and minced garlic. Even though most people thought it sounded terrible, they ended up eating seconds. Mannschaft followed up with a culinary quarterback sneak: they pooled their money and got Popeye’s Chicken for everyone. Our dining tent fell silent as we dug into the chicken, biscuits and sides, as everyone worked really hard today and we were ready to eat and enjoy our food.

We brought some of the wood from our demo job back to our camp so that we could start a little warming fire in the barbecue that we found on the lot. Lots of us gathered around it to stay warm and we were joined there by Shawny’s sister Sherry and our (and her) friend Jean Fahr of Parkway Partners. Sherry picked up letters from our students to her students at Happy Hollow Elementary in West Lafayette, Indiana. Sherry’s eye is getting much better already, though she can’t see out of it quite right yet. She is confident that it will improve quickly and will heal completely.

Speaking of healing, Kellie (our elbow patient from yesterday) has improved dramatically though she is still wearing her sling just to be careful. Julie’s back has not improved much yet so we are pursuing a range of options to help her get some relief. She spent the day inside today helping to manage our existing video footage so that we can keep track of what we have so far. Kellie and Julie are both hanging tough for now; we’ll keep you posted as things progress for each of them.

We headed into the bus for our nightly meeting a little earlier than usual tonight to escape the chill. We talked about our community and how it’s working, we celebrated our great work on the demolition job, and we read our messages on the website. We ended with our musical selections from NOLA 2006 veteran Dave Blanchard. He worked up ipod playlists for every day that we are in New Orleans to help us unwind, reflect, and plan our journal entries for the day. We really love this moment of conversational silence each evening, even though we don’t always use it as a transition into sleep. Thanks for this great gift to all of us, Dave!

Phase One: Where to start is never a problem for this group. As said before, we can do anything. The strategy and motivation makes us unstoppable as we continue to prove those wrong who doubted us.

Phase Two: “If you say something can’t be done, don’t stop those actually doing it” We continue to work in the cold weather for the goal of completely clearing the plot of land that once contained a house and continues to become a clear and clean piece of land.

Phase Three: Step back and take it in. We finished the job. You all thought the most exciting part of the job was when the building went down. For us it was when the last piece of lumber and the last brick was removed where there was once mold, rats, rot, and cockroach infested food bank left untouched since the storm 16 months ago.

Tommy Bell shows the group how to get the job done. He was one of the hardest workers on the job site.

Macho woman Megan rips into one of the roof beams of the demolished building.

After dismantling the roof, which was a job in itself, we started pulling apart the floor. Groups worked from opposite sides using flat bars and hammers to pry up the wood panels.

Bus driver Leo works hard stripping the roof of the demolished food storage building.

Juan and Jed happily carry away the last piece of debris from the worksite bringing the day and the project to a close.

During lunch many group members enjoy a game of horse in the parking lot.

After we pulled the roof apart everyone started to work on dismantling the floor. It took the rest of the day to clear the floor and frame. By the end of the day everything was gone and we were excited to say that we had dismantled an entire building!

With everyone’s help it was possible to clear and dissemble the abandoned food bank. With two hands you can change the world. Start small and grow to something great.

Teamwork! Courtney and Emily work together to pick up debris. The NOLA Crew can work hard and have fun while doing it.

After ripping up the floor and foundation blocks, we found literally yards of garbage. One of the “artifacts” that we found was this light switch cover.

Working hard (with only one arm), Kellie keeps it safe by picking up stray nails.

The rehabilitation of Don’s house has been a long but worthwhile process. Vanessa is seen sanding the floors as she takes off layers and layers of paint and caulk on Don’s floors.

A lone sledgehammer stands in the corner of where the food bank once stood, while several of us finish up work on the site.

We were fortunate to see city workers picking up the pile of debris this evening. The quote on her hard hat gave us a sense of hope for this particular neighborhood.

An abandoned row of government-funded housing stands just a few hundred feet from our job site. These units have been unoccupied since the storm, and very little planning has been made to reopen.

After a long day of long work at both Don’s and Catholic Charities, we feast on dinner from Popeye’s. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits were inhaled as soon as they arrived at camp.

Saria, Chris, and Aaron stand by our newly created fire while trying to brave the bone chilling weather.